Study Guide

Gone With the Wind Setting

By Margaret Mitchell


Georgia, Mid- to Late-1800s

There are two settings in Gone With the Wind: the South that is there, and the South that isn't. Both are important—and both are deceptive.

The South that is there in the book is the South on the eve of, in the middle of, and in the wake of the Civil War. Mitchell fills the book with period details about this South. You learn that women were supposed to eat before a barbecue so that in public they appeared to be dainty and without appetite; you see Atlanta grow up from a backwater to a thriving metropolis; you see the South ravaged and defeated. And you see Tara:

[…] the white house gleaming welcome […] through the reddening autumn leaves […] the quiet hush of the country twilight coming down […] like a benediction. (63.133)

But beside the South that is there, in the bustle and sweep of history, there's also a South you barely see; an idealized pre-War South, untouched by War, perfect and ideal. That South is glimpsed in the early chapters of the book, though it's already passing away as the war comes.

So the ideal South, which the characters in the book see as the real South, is basically never represented. It's a ghost setting that's only discussed in memory. That's what Ashley is referring to when he says, "I do not know what the future will bring, but it cannot be as beautiful or as satisfying as the past" (11.16). Or when Scarlett realizes:

The old days had gone but these people would go their ways as if the old days still existed, charming, leisurely, determined not to rush and scramble for pennies as the Yankees did, determined to part with none of their old ways. (35.177)

Like the title says, Gone With the Wind is about a setting that disappears, or that passes away.

To create that setting, to imagine an ideal past, though, requires the novel to erase a lot of things. Most importantly, it erases the brutality of slavery. There is no place for the harshness of slavery in the beautiful past, nor in the novel's sad present.

To this end, you never see slaves working in the fields; you never see slaves sold away from their families and loved ones; you never see slaves who are complex people with their own loves and concerns and dreams. Black people in this book only exist as happy family retainers or ungrateful savages, and are never presented as fully human. The setting of Gone With the Wind is built first on denying their labor and then on denying their freedom. If it acknowledged either, it would truly blow apart.